Taking this information in with our mind can sometimes feel taxing. It’s entirely possible that it will be a while—possibly years—before we reach the levels within ourselves where these teachings will apply. When we bump up against our own inner conflict, then these words will really make sense. Then we get what is meant by there being a difference between intellectual and emotional understanding. For now, it may help to listen for a deep inner echo from a thought presented here. A seed may be sown that will bear wonderful fruit later on.
Speaking of the future, one thing we all struggle with greatly is the ability to stay present in each moment. We very rarely live in the Now. We push into the future or pull back into the past. Often we’ll be going in both directions at once. Either way, we are straining away from what’s here now.
Only by living in the Now are we living in reality. However we imagine the future to pan out, it may never come to pass the way we hope—or fear. Suppose, for a second, that it were possible to get it right in our future-fantasy. We’re still in illusion because that is then and we’re here now. Same about the past. Suppose we really do have perfect recollection—which of course we never actually do—we’re still experiencing another segment of time. Reality, which is happening now, is not static. Everything is in flux.
We like our fantasy time in the future and the past, and so we like to live there. And then we also get stuck there because of our misconceptions. We are afraid to let go and go with the natural flux of time in each moment. If we would trust the benign quality of the flux of time, we could come into harmony with it. Then we wouldn’t need to constantly try to manipulate it. We wouldn’t waste time fearing the future or wishing for fulfillment to happen there. Nor would we keep dipping into the past for it.
Oddly, we don’t trust ourselves to live in the present when the future gets here. This isn’t so illogical. After all, we’re not doing such a hot job of getting fulfillment right now by being present with what is. Whatever untruth we’re holding onto is obstructing us right now, and rather than tackle it, we jump away from it—into another time. This seems like an easy way out.
We are starting to catch on to the way in which time flows, following certain rhythms. We see this movement in the seasons, the transition from day to night, the shifting positions of planets as they orbit through space. These movements all create waves that we can sense, like the way we have picked up on the effects of astrological events.
Individually, we are aware that we go through good times and bad times. What we take on during good times tends to go well. We’re freer than usual, even in spite of ongoing problems. We’re hopeful and are able to feel fulfilled. Then we hit those skids on the downward curve of the wave. In those times, it seems we can do nothing right. This happens to everyone.
These fluctuating periods come about due to disharmony we have created in our relationship with time. If we’re willing to look at and learn from our negativity and the resulting bad times, then we’ll see they will yield victory and understanding. So then we won’t experience the downward times as depressing or upsetting. If we can use our time in this way, living in the reality of each moment, life will yield adventure, peace and harmony. We can’t describe this peace—this inner anchor—in words. And we can’t possibly replace it with any other goal.
So to be present now, we have to have a sense of ourselves and be in reality. For many of us, we mostly believe that this is already true about us. But upon closer inspection, we discover another situation. We only need to sit quietly for a few minutes in meditation to verify the mind’s predilection to jump to any-other-moment-but-this-one. Discovery is always the first step.
In our process of self-finding, we often unearth hidden currents in ourselves that run counter to what we previously thought was true. Then we see how these have destroyed so many chances for a happy life full of meaning. The finding of these currents can never harm us. It’s not seeing them that does all the damage. We will eventually come to see that this is so.
What are some other symptoms that indicate a lack of living in the Now? One crass example is not feeling our own death as a reality. It’s neither morbid nor negative to conceive of our own mortality. It’s not a burden either, or depressing, or fear producing. None of these common beliefs are true.
Further, it doesn’t diminish the enjoyment of the present moment, regardless of what one believes about life after death. Quite the opposite, in fact. Those who won’t connect with the reality of their limited life span are morbidly afraid of death. Because if you can’t feel your death as real, you also can’t feel your aliveness as real. Two sides of the same coin.
Another indicator of a lack of self-identification is having a fleeting thought that our thoughts, feelings or words in a conversation are more important than they actually are. We shift ourselves ever so subtly for effect. This is hard to catch, but once we do, it shows that we are more identified with the other than with ourselves. For we focus more on impressing than expressing. If we need them to see us a certain way, we are living our lives through them. We depend on the other then for our reality.
Along these lines, let’s not take these teachings as reprimands that ask us to change quickly. Doing that can serve to keep us further identified with a source or authority other than ourselves. Our goal is simply to see wherever we are shifting our identification to outside ourselves. Then greet such awareness as a signpost on a well-marked road that can bring us to deeper understanding of ourselves.
Let’s drop a little deeper into the topic of self-identification. When a baby is born and starts to grow up, it doesn’t have a strong enough ego to be able to care for itself. We depend on the more powerful grown-up world. We all get this, especially on the physical level. Kids need food, protection and a place to live.
But there are other levels on which the child is also dependent, including the emotional, intellectual and spiritual. Children need love just as much as they need to eat. And they can’t get either, all on their own.
Love is an essential ingredient in life. When we become adults, if we are mature, we don’t wait around helplessly for someone to give it to us. Love comes to us by way of our capacity for loving and relating. If we’re truly mature, we won’t feel insecure or helpless if we don’t have love.
If we find ourselves feeling insecure in ourselves, it is because we are still emotionally immature. So while for the child, having a weak ego is a reality, for an adult, being dependent on others for love is not in reality. Some part of us is stuck back in time, as a child. In truth, we should be no more dependent on others for love than we are for physical subsistence.
In a similar way, children can’t yet form their own ideas. They are not able to parse the difference between reason, common sense and logic, or to see what is the opposite of these. They depend on adults to give them the principles and ideas that will guide them in growing up. If we withhold sound principles and ideas from children, this doesn’t make them more independent.
No, starve a child and they won’t become magically more capable of getting themselves fed. Don’t give them love and they won’t become better equipped to love. Obviously, the opposite is true. Indeed, it is only through the organic process of growing up that a child is gradually able to cut financial ties so they can stand on their own. They must develop their capacity for loving so they don’t depend on love being given to them. They must learn to discern among ideas so they can discard the ones they don’t accept. Or maybe come back to the same ideas after re-discovering them on their own.
Through a process such as this, we establish our soul and spirit. We gracefully break the bond of dependency with our parents, doing so in a healthy way, even if the parents have a hard time letting go.
It’s when the child remains burdened with problems that didn’t get resolved during childhood that they desire to not cut the cord. Instead, they try to keep it alive, sometimes in precarious or hidden ways. Wires can get crossed here. Too often, someone who is emotionally independent will be seen as isolating. Another who withdraws from involvement while frantically holding onto dependency may be seen as the loving one. But the opposite is what’s true. What a mature person does is to stand on their own two feet. Such a stable stance creates the possibility for mutual exchange in relationship.
Children benefit greatly from having a good role model for molding their ego. This is what later allows them to stand freely. But if the good example tries to perpetuate the child’s identification with them, they prevent the child from identifying with themselves. If the parent “succeeds,” the child will grow up wanting to become the parent with whom they identify so favorably—instead of wanting to grow up and find themselves. Success? Not so much.
This can flip around and also happen regarding the parent a child hates and doesn’t want to be like. In this type of negative identification, the child fears ever being like the hated parent. But then they are suspicious that they might be. So then there’s a vague sense that maybe this parent is desirable, despite being despised. This can be quite shocking to realize. Such a tie to an undesirable parent may be harder to break than the tie to a cherished parent.
So as parents, we want to create a positive identification with our children that gradually lets go so the child evolves and learns to identify with themselves. As adults, if we see that we are still caught in either positive or negative identification, we have just taken the first step toward finding our true selves.
If we grow up and don’t develop identification with ourselves, we will create substitutes for the parents we originally identified with. Often we will find, not an individual, but a national, religious or political group. It’s possible we will find a minority group to identify with so we can rebel against the majority.
Conformity results from this need to identify with someone who is more powerful. This can also show up as nonconformity, especially if one makes too big a point of it. Ironically, a rebelling minority will believe that they are free, what with their appearing to defy conformity and all. But any time we have this stringent need to prove something, we can be sure there are flaws underneath. Truly free people don’t need to make a big show of it. There is no need to be militant about things.
Causes are another magnet that people may be drawn to identifying with. But no matter how good the actual cause may be, it can be harmful to use it as a substitute for self-identification. The problem is not that one embraces a worthy cause. For certainly, this can be done from a place of inner freedom. But if it’s done to give us something to lean on because inside we are still a weak child, our motivation will be off.
The point here isn’t to separate ourselves from all ideas, groups, loyalties or causes. That would be isolation and in fact even irresponsible as a member of society. But there’s a huge difference between embracing something out of healthy convictions so that we gain sustenance from our inner resources, and tapping a worthy cause to replace a dry well inside ourselves.
When we talked about self-alienation, we were talking about an effect. Failure to identify with oneself is the cause. This is the case any time we find ourselves feeling emotionally dependent on someone else. It’s also there whenever we fear that others won’t give us what we need and expect—financial help, approval, love or acceptance.
Of course there is a natural need for human interdependence, but this doesn’t make us feel anxious, as though our lifeblood comes from outside ourselves. That’s neither natural nor necessary. And it weakens a person, rather than strengthening them.
It’s like not having had our emotional and spiritual umbilical cord cut. The self can’t possibly keep growing if it stays inside the mother’s womb. To be capable of further growth, a baby has to evolve; we have to cut the cord.
When a lack of selfhood exists and we find ourselves dependent on others, we are bound to find that we are also using others. We are then living a parasitic life. We pretend love when we merely need, and use people to keep ourselves from sinking. Our only reality is what we are accorded by others. We have no reality of our own. The more we use the ones we need, the weaker we get, and the more we believe we need others to strengthen us.
We’re also subtly using others when we feel we must be in control. We need to see how we fear loss of control, destroying relationships by making them a battleground for control. It’s like a fight for survival that spoils mutuality and fulfillment. Our need for control makes us manipulate everyone, including how everyone feels. How crippling.
We can use our need for stringent control—of others, of situations, of relationships—as a direct cue to see that we are, in that moment, not identifying with ourselves. This is a great launching point for uncovering the nucleus of our deliberate self-denial—the kernel that leads to so much unnecessary hardship. From here, we can come to bring out our real self. Fortunately, that part is way easier than finding the negative conditions.
There are riches contained in every soul. They are there for the asking. We sense this but often turn the wrong way. If we can learn to tap this inner wealth, we can stop straining away from the present moment and from feeling like a stranger to ourselves.
It starts by seeing where we are clinging, depending on others in one way or another. We can then find the cord that we so far have refused to cut so that the object of our attachment couldn’t get rooted in our own being. Once we establish these roots, it really won’t be that hard to cut those ties and grow into ourselves.
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